Category Archives: social behavior

On Recognizing Conspecifics

Nature Neuroscience1

Communication with members of ones own species is extremely important for social animals. Non-verbal messages can signal socially significant events such as the presence of a predator or the movement of the group. It is therefore no great surprise that some recent research has found monkey brain areas specialized for recognizing conspecifics1. This is a sensible sensory strategy, one which ensures that individuals are able to distinguish between the various growls and caws that they might be privy to, and pluck out the ones most relevant to their continued survival.

In animals where vocalizations transcend the guttural, even more specialization has been unearthed (unbrained?) in the skull. Work on Zebra finches has demonstrated that there are neurons which are active specifically during the production of an individuals song (they have, after all, only one in a lifetime) or while the animal hears his song being played back. Again we can confidently say that this type of anatomical customization is full of utility since it allows the animal to monitor and potentially modulate its learning. In fact it would be difficult to imagine the learning process without this type of helpful structure.

References:
1. Petkov CI, Kayser C, Steudel T, Whittingstall K, Augath M, Logothetis NK. (2008) A voice region in the monkey brain. Nat Neurosci. 11(3):367-74.
2. Prather JF, Peters S, Nowicki S, Mooney R. (2008) Precise auditory-vocal mirroring in neurons for learned vocal communication. Nature. 451(7176):305-10.